Poor oral health affects nearly half of the world’s population

Poor oral health affects nearly half of the world’s population
© iStock/Galina Zhigalova

A new report provides the first-ever analysis of oral health with data profiles for 194 countries, providing insight into the burden of oral diseases worldwide.

The Global Oral Health Status Report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that 45% of the global population suffers from poor oral health and diseases, with three out of every four affected people living in low-and middle-income countries. Global cases of oral diseases have increased by one billion over the last 30 years, which highlights that many people do not have access to oral disease prevention tools and treatments.

“Oral health has long been neglected in global health, but many oral diseases can be prevented and treated with the cost-effective measures outlined in this report,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “WHO is committed to providing guidance and support to countries so that all people, wherever they live and whatever their income, have the knowledge and tools needed to look after their teeth and mouths, and to access services for prevention and care when they need them.”

Oral health concerns are coming more common

The most common oral diseases are dental caries (tooth decay), severe gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancers. Untreated tooth decay is the most common oral health condition globally, affecting around 2.5 billion people. Severe gum disease is estimated to affect one billion people worldwide, whilst around 380,000 new cases of oral cancers are diagnosed yearly.

The report illuminates the inequalities in access to oral health services, with a growing burden of oral diseases and conditions affecting low- and middle-income countries. Individuals on low incomes, living with disabilities, older people living alone or in care homes, those living remote and in rural communities and people from minority groups are at a higher risk of poor oral health.

The clear inequalities in oral health are also represented in other non-communicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders.

Improving oral services across the world

The report outlines that only a small percentage of the global population is covered by essential oral health services, with those in greatest need of support having the least amount of access. The key barriers to delivering universal access to oral health services for all include:

  1. Oral health care requires high out-of-pocket expenditures. This often leads to catastrophic costs and significant financial burdens for families and communities.
  2. The provision of oral health services largely relies on highly specialized providers using expensive high-tech equipment and materials, and these services are not well integrated with primary health care models.
  3. Poor information and surveillance systems, combined with low priority for public oral health research are major bottlenecks to developing more effective oral health interventions and policies.

The report outlines opportunities that would improve the global burden of oral diseases including:

  • Adopting a public health approach by addressing common risk factors through promoting a well-balanced diet low in sugars, stopping use of all forms of tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption and improving access to effective and affordable fluoride toothpaste.
  • Planning oral health services as part of national health and improving the integration of oral health services in primary health care as part of universal health coverage.
  • Redefining oral health workforce models to respond to population needs and expanding competencies of non-dental healthcare workers to expand oral health service coverage and;
  • strengthening information systems by collecting and integrating oral health data into national health monitoring systems.


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